Proteas: All-pace is serious option

2017-01-08 16:52
Duanne Olivier (Gallo)

Cape Town – The series safely in the bag, South Africa may feel suitably emboldened to pitch a four-pronged pace arsenal into battle against Sri Lanka in the third and final Test at the Wanderers from Thursday.

It would go against their general preference – as it would most teams, really – in modern times to slot at least one specialist spinner into the bowling mix.

But given the tourists’ pretty clear fragility and lack of application against pace in the series so far, and the Bullring’s reputation for healthy bounce and carry, the Proteas could hardly be blamed if they decided to truly go for the jugular with an all-out speed assault.

That way, they would most certainly assure themselves of an opportunity to try out uncapped fast bowler Duanne Olivier of the Knights, who was added to the squad after the much-publicised Kyle Abbott Kolpak exit drama despite Wayne Parnell also remaining a patient part of the group.

If they decide to retain emerging left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj, it is overwhelmingly likely to come down to a straight shootout for the Abbott vacancy between Olivier, 24, and the more experienced left-armer Parnell to supplement the presence of in-form Kagiso Rabada and rejuvenated Vernon Philander.

Frankly, though, how much is there to lose by fielding both at a venue where spinners so seldom play keynote roles in Test matches?

The last time a slow bowler managed a Wanderers “five-for”, for example, was as far back as November 1994, when New Zealand’s left-arm spinner Matthew Hart bagged 5/77 in the SA second innings as the visitors earned an upset 137-run triumph, although the Black Caps were eventually pipped 2-1 in the series anyway.

Considering the newly-created Abbott void, and the ongoing absence of staple speedsters like Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, giving Olivier a gallop would be extremely useful from a future-planning perspective.

If the brains trust were adamant that leaving out Maharaj – and yes, he would be a little unlucky to go – didn’t represent a good idea, then Olivier is far less certain of a debut appearance.

Enigmatic though he is, Parnell is a long way from a spent force at 27, and has waited eagerly for a fifth crack at Test cricket since pulling up injured – he had taken two wickets in his first eight overs – during the Australian first innings of a Port Elizabeth clash in February 2014.

He offers appealing variety given his left-arm status, as well as additional, lower-order credentials with the blade, so a recall for him could well leave the younger tearaway Olivier kicking his heels for a bit longer.

South Africa may get cold feet over the prospect of four quickies due to the fact that they tried that approach the last time they played a Bullring Test, against England last season and -- at least in the result column for that match -- it bombed.

Alastair Cook and company triumphed by seven wickets for a decisive 2-0 lead in the four-Test series; the SA pace department comprised Chris Morris, Morkel, Rabada and another debutant on that occasion, Hardus Viljoen, who is also now on the Kolpak bandwagon.

But Sri Lanka, with respect, aren’t England for proficiency against pace in challenging conditions, and the fact that a fair bit of rain and/or cloudy skies is in the long-range weather forecast for Johannesburg perhaps makes it that bit more justifiable for the Proteas to go pace-heavy again.

Regardless of whether they eventually go with three seamers or four, the host nation will be heavy favourites to make a clean sweep of the series.

They have not won every Test in a series of three contests or more since 2012/13, when Pakistan were on the receiving end of a 3-0 grilling on our soil.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing



Read more on:    proteas  |  wayne parnell  |  duanne olivier  |  cricket

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